Saturday, March 21, 2009

On Pornography: The Author Hinges Her Essay on a Line by Susan Sontag

We all know that “The Onion” has its finger on the pulse with subversively accurate articles that make us spit out our muffins on the subway. This week “The Onion” printed a cover story that had everyone talking when days later an almost identical report was released in the authentic press. The topic was “depraved porn” and its prevalence in Japanese culture.

“The Onion” headline asserts: Japan Pledges To Halt Production Of Weirdo Porn That Makes People Puke. Acknowledging its embarrassment over worldwide outbreaks of violent, uncontrolled regurgitation, the Japanese government apologized Wednesday to the millions of viewers who have been sickened over the past three decades by the revolting depravity of the nation's pornographic exports.

"We honestly had no idea people did not enjoy this stuff," said Cultural Affairs Minister Kazuhiro Nakai, expressing regret for the thousands of hours of bondage porn, rape porn, utensil-rape porn, food-rape porn, frozen-food-rape porn, vomit-enema porn, elder-care-coma-patient-rape porn, and the kind of a porn in which a nubile youth is kidnapped, stripped, tied down in a wading pool and raped. "We are deeply ashamed for whatever it is about these films that has made people around the world vomit so vigorously. Please know that the content was only intended to entertain and arouse."

"I feel just awful that our work was received in this fashion," said Takuya Ishiyama, creative director of Shonen Young Forcible Jump. "But I know we can generate content more suitable for an international audience, perhaps by removing some of the characters who get off by choking on vomit they've drunk from a rubber tube inserted into their partner's stomach."
So, you get the idea that what appears to be wildly exaggerated porn themes causes cultural disbelief regarding everyone's repulsion. Though I am not personally well-acquainted with Japanese porn, I know that this style of extreme and repulsive fantasy described in loving detail by “The Onion” is not so far from the truth.

On the heels of that satirical story the following report came to us about a Japanese video game titled “Rapeplay” which encourages the player to sexually assault a mother and her two young daughters in a subway station. The players are also encouraged to force the virtual woman they rape to have an abortion. If she is allowed to give birth the woman throws the player's character under a train. Remember, this is not “The Onion” – this is an actual game that, by press admissions, was not intended for release outside of Japan.

A spokesman for the company said: "We believe there is no problem with the software, which has cleared the domestic ratings of an ethics watchdog body."

Naturally, I had a response probably consistent with yours, one of disgust and moral offense; we are left wondering if such a violent game indeed leads to an encouragement of rape. I became curious about what the rape statistics were in Japan compared with other industrialized nations. Surprise; they rank the lowest of all countries who keep stats on such crimes; twenty times lower than the US, for example.

This made me think about how in Susan Sontag’s essay “On Photography” she notes that the Japanese are essentially brutalized by a ruthless work ethic and it is due to this ethic that they take pictures incessantly. In a sense, shooting photos is a way of “working” while you’re supposed to be relaxing and or enjoying leisure time; it alleviates the guilt of "doing nothing".

Does it stand to reason that a similar release might be necessary in the recreational activities connected to sexual fantasy? If you think of the most cliché of all Japanese qualities, the one that may stand out clearest is that of being polite and respectful. Could the repression by such a controlled social ethic actually be alleviated by a perverse and hostile rape fantasy: i.e. Rapeplay?

Consider that in Japanese religion the gods are sexual beings and actually procreate carnally, as compared to “birth via miracle” in Christian cultures. Though prostitution is technically not legal in Japan it is tolerated in myriad forms, since the crime only applies to actual intercourse. There are porn magazines readily available in vending machines, and places called “love hotels” where young couples can be intimate outside of their family homes. Rituals and festivals abound weekly, for which phalluses are everywhere from costumes to savory treats and lollipops. As a whole, the Japanese culture is far more liberated about sex than Americans could ever hope to be, with our puritanically ingrained notions. There is a strong distinction between moral realities and tolerance for what is clearly pure fantasy.

Yet, why the prurient interest in the abjectly depraved and amoral? I do not have the answer to that and I certainly do not wish to vilify an entire culture for its dubious choice in entertainment. It is, after all, "make-believe", not a national pastime. I can only cling to the idea that this video game, and porn like it, was not meant to be examined or judged outside of its own culture. It makes me feel like I peeked into the bedside table at my best friend’s house and was shocked by what I found there. Am I justified in judging her sexual proclivities that were not meant for my review?

Surely, the Japanese would say the same thing, “Get out of our fantasy-world and mind your own business.”

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